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HEADpeace?

You often say that the design should speak for itself. What message are you trying to communicate with your collection?

“Now that you bring up that saying, I only partly agree. My collection is a literal and metaphorical translation of TCM. But I do think it needs some context or else it's just a flat design. Everything needs context or else what's the value of design in general then? You can put a chair in the middle of the museum in a white space and everybody would think it's contemporary and very modern. But it should also have some context. Within my headpieces, the Meridian lines are very obvious when you know what Meridians are. But there are also a lot of people, like an audience that I want to reach that doesn't know anything about it or don't have any interest in it, but will hopefully get intrigued by my designs to read the context, to spread the word about TCM and the value it can bring to design. When it comes to my main message, I would say to reclaim and change the narrative around a stigmatised experience from your childhood, for example. Because you don’t have to stick with these thoughts. You can be proud and show the change of narrative.”

According to Chinese sayings, the only constants in life are change and transformation, or in other words, a notion of flux. How do you translate this theory of harmony into your headpieces? 

“To be in harmony, to be in balance is to be aware of what's happening around you, but also of what's happening inside of you. So being in-tune with your body and environment. By showing the reflection of the 3D environment through the metal headpieces, and making the inside invisible to the viewer, I translate the theory of harmony. This comes from a place of protection: protecting the inner energies and to not soak everything up that your environment throws at you. During this semester, I really needed some time to be unbothered by my environment, and to listen to my body, my needs and wishes. So I realised that by shutting down, I also listen to my environment.” 

 

Nowadays, we can see more and more throughout the West that “medicine needs art, progress needs wisdom and precision needs vision“, like T. Kaptchuk said. As a digital designer, what do you think digital design needs?

“I think digital design needs accessibility. Interfaces look very complicated, and that holds a lot of people back from getting into 3D design. I struggled, too, from a technical perspective, but I had the privilege to have a teacher who I could ask for help. A lot of people don't have that.”

digital designs made by TENG TENG HO. 

Your digital fashion collection, the web that has no weaver is inspired by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). How come? 

“So first, I wanted to create a 3D community platform where people share their embodied experiences through the medium of digital fashion. But then I realised that this is quite far-fetched. I felt like I had to contribute in another way to the Chinese diaspora community before I aim to create a platform. So I came back to my childhood memories: I remembered my parents picking me up from school with all those red spots on their bodies from the cupping sessions (baguan, a qi-flow improving therapy). During that time, I thought that was weird and I ignored that part of our culture. With my collection, named after the Chinese Medicine book by Ted J. Kaptchuk, I wanted to change the narrative of my childhood thoughts and reclaim my Chinese identity by learning about Traditional Chinese Medicine and its five-phase theory (wu-xing). Every garment represents one of the phases (Wood, Fire, Water, Earth and Metal).”

How do you translate Traditional Chinese Medicine into digital headpieces? 

“The headpieces are based on the facial Meridians. They stand in relation to the 3D environment I created as well as to the colour that triggers a certain emotion. For example the colour red, that is connected to fire, brings up joy. There are seven basic emotions: joy, anger, sadness, grief, worry, fear and fright, according to the Nei Jing. Recognising and responding to those emotions is seen as a critical component of a healthy life. One of the headpieces has a metallic fabric around it that reflects the 3D environment. I never know 100% how the pieces turn out, but that's also what I wanted. I wanted to show that the garment is the environment and the environment is the garment.”

 

What inspired you to show the reflection of the environment through your headpieces?

“When I arrived at my acupuncture appointment at Kim’s, she told me to wear a hoodie instead of a thin top when it's windy outside. A lot of wind is bad for my liver condition, especially wind on my neck. This inspired me to show what effect the environment has on the body, represented by the reflection of the environment on the headpieces.”

How was your experience working together with TCM practitioner Kim?
“We tried to co-design, but during the process Kim told me that she does not have any interest in fashion design as a TCM practitioner. However, I was interested in sharing her knowledge about and practice of TCM.”

What is more important to you, the process or the outcome?
“My design process is like a healing journey restoring Yin and Yang. As Yin represents the end, completion and accomplishment, Yang represents beginning, arousal, and dynamic potential. So for me, the process is what it’s all about.

 

Can you imagine yourself offering workshops to hybrid communities in collaboration with TCM practitioners, (fashion) designers/artists and anyone struggling with systemic issues as a form of collective healing?  

“I would definitely see myself contributing and collaborating with other artists. But I would also like to create a 3D space where people who are outside of the fashion bubble, people like Kim, are included, as a way of dissolving the ego of fashion and saying no the fashion hierarchy, in which collaborations only happen amongst creatives/artists.”
 

Your design approach of making an effort towards collaboration within the East- and Southeast-Asian diaspora offers so much potential for our hybrid communities.
“Yes, many of us struggle with blacklashes in what we are doing, rooted in a Western way of categorising, and finding cause and reasoning of matter instead of acknowledging interconnectedness of mind, body and spirit.” 

How can Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) be used within digital headwear design as a form of healing? When digital designer and AMFI student Teng Teng Ho felt the need to break down the ego of fashion, she discovered that it is possible to change your own childhood narrative. We both used the opportunity to balance out our screen-time, and met at Rembrandtpark. To talk about her first digital collection, the importance of process(ing) and seeking alliance outside the infamous fashion bubble.

June 24, 2022

text & interview JESSICA BILAVSKI

images TENG TENG HO

digital designs made by TENG TENG HO. 

digital designs made by TENG TENG HO.